Friday, August 29, 2008

Knocking Down That Wall . . .

My friend and former colleague Denise Gilman (pictured left), a Clinical Professor at the University of Texas School of Law, has submitted a request for a hearing on the Texas/Mexico border wall to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR). Gilman has pulled together an impressive Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall at UT, comprised of professors and students in law, anthropology, and environmental science, including Gilman's husband, Ariel Dulitzky, the former Assistant Executive Secretary of the ICHR. This is a seriously dynamic human rights duo; Dulitzky now runs the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at UT (recent law grads take note of the great fellowship opportunity at the Center). But I digress; in June, Gilman and her Working Group submitted briefing papers to the Inter-American Commission outlining the human rights violations resulting from the border wall: violations of the right to property and equal protection; violations of the government's obligation to consider harm to the environment when undertaking public projects; and violations of the rights of indigenous communities. As the United States, in typical fashion, signed but never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, the request relies on the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man [sic], which, while not a legally binding treaty, is viewed by both the Inter-American Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as a source of international obligations for all members of the Organization of American States, including the U.S. In any case, the Working Group's arguments are creative and well thought out: that the United States is taking private property that has been held by families for generations without "properly considering other alternatives for controlling the border"; that the land of small landowners who are disproportionately poor, Latino, and less educated will be taken while more lucrative properties will remain intact; that the wall will cause severe environmental degratation of the Rio Grande river and its wildlife; and that the wall will harm Native American communities that "live and practice their traditional cultures and religions along the Texas/Mexico border." Moreover, because the "United States has . . . stripped away, in relation to the border wall, judicial protection that it otherwise provides" for indigenous rights and the environment, "possibilities for a court challenge to the taking of property and construction of the border wall are extremely limited", and the Working Group thus posits a violation of Art. XVIII of the American Declaration, guaranteeing the right to judicial protection. While a hearing before the ICHR won't produce a ruling that's enforceable in U.S. courts, the Working Group's painstakingly collected evidence should have at least some shame value, and might inspire other OAS members to condemn the wall, as Chile, Mexico, and 26 other countries already have done. You go, Grrl.


Marjorie Florestal said...


Thanks for another great post. You raise a serious concern: Rather than dealing with its challenges at the border in a systematic fashion, the US would rather just wall us in--as if that were even possible. Ultimately, we will all end up living in well-appointed prisons until the next crisis rears up and shows us how impossible it is to be separated from the problems of your neighbor.

In the midst of reading your post, however, I was reduced to tears of mirth from this little gem: "the request relies on the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man [sic]" Priceless! You go grrl!

Diane Marie Amann said...

The wall raises a host of other concerns in this hurricane/flooding season; see the Associated Press' 8/26/08 story, "Critics of Fence Point to Flood at Border Sites," at